Fighting for Deprived and Abandoned Communities in Africa

“The world is debating local solutions to global problems using the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Agenda 2063 as benchmarks for accelerating inclusive development.” ~ Hamzat Lawal.

Children in far-to-reach Lanzai community in Bauchi State

Despite billions of dollars in export revenue since the discovery of oil deposits in the late 1950s, more than half of Nigerians live in abject poverty without access to basic human needs. Literacy is low and rural banditry is biting. Recent data depicts Nigeria as the headquarters of people living in extreme poverty in the world. In large part, the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of political leaders – former military administrators and their corrupt civilian accomplices, who, for over a century  have humbled a once-proud nation through outright incompetence in resource management and poor governance.

With institutions broken and services poorly delivered, millions of Nigerians, mostly young people – the educated and business class, are fleeing the country to escape impoverishment and political repression. Rather than join the bandwagon, Follow The Money (FTM) – a social accountability movement, was founded in 2012 to challenge the status quo and proffer citizen-led solutions to a political setup dancing on the brink.

First, FTM vigorously and successfully advocated for the cleanup and remediation of Bagega, a rural community in Zamfara State, Northern Nigeria, after 400 children had died from lead poisoning as a result of artisanal mining activities and flood devastation. Following the tragic incident and FTM’s call for action, the Nigerian Federal government released over $5.3 million for the cleanup of Bagega. However, the funds did not get to the affected community until there was international outcry initiated and coordinated by FTM in collaborations with the Human Rights Watch. The team mobilized thousands of citizens and leveraged on the power of social media using the hashtag – #SaveBagega, and government was compelled to do the right thing. Summarily, the efforts paid off as over 1,500 children – who suffered lead poisoning as a result of contaminated water sources, received treatment; the community underwent reconstruction – roads constructed, solar-powered portable drinking water provided, schools and primary healthcare centres built and fully equipped.

An elderly man in Lanzai community, Bauchi State

The results of #SaveBagega emboldened the team and we scaled up. Within seven years (2012 – 2019), FTM has metamorphosed into a continental movement comprising of activists; journalists and researchers, campaigning for transparency and accountability in the way public resources are deployed, spent and managed. As of today, FTM is the biggest social accountability movement in Africa.

This was not enough. We recognised that since government failures are systemic, the solutions must be too. We revised our theory of change and initiated unusual engagements with ministries, departments and agencies ((MDAs) of government especially education, health, extractive and water and sanitation, which deliver such services that directly affect the lives of people living in poverty. The goal is clear: we want better public services for millions of Nigerians living in marginalized communities.

Very often, marginalized communities (citizens) do not possess information about government policies, programmes and projects in their localities. From our findings, this causes confusion and sometimes, distrust between citizens and government. At FTM, we bridge this lacuna by ensuring that project details (budget, duration, contractors and implementing agency) are clearly communicated in simple language to communities in order to engender civic participation and ownership for sustainability.

From the evidence, community participation limits tendencies for corruption as local stakeholders are constantly encouraged to keep their eyes on projects and to ask relevant questions that would advance project implementation. Since 2012, we have successfully advocated for USD 500 million and successfully tracked over USD 10 millionwhich would have ordinarily been misspent – mindlessly shortchanging the people. Due size and population, Nigeria matters for West Africa, Africa, and the world. This is why civil societies must be strengthened to demand accountability – judicious utilization of scarce public resources, and the world must pay attention and lend its support to ensure that Nigeria invests in her bulging population in the spirit of sustainable development goals. If Nigeria remains trapped in the quicksand of corruption, political malaise, economic decline and ethnic rivalry, the world will be worse off for it.